Sports 56 WHBlog Q

April 14, 2009

John Calipari and the Great Player Grab

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Will Askew @ 12:30 pm

By now, it’s old news that John Calipari has left the University of Memphis to head for Kentucky, and almost as old news that Memphis has hired Josh Pastner to replace Calipari.  Before I get to the main point of my argument, let me first say that I have no problem whatsoever with John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky.  Yes, he had built a machine here at Memphis, but Kentucky is Kentucky–7 National Championships and the most wins in college basketball history can be a powerful lure to a prospective coach, no matter where he is or what he has accomplished there.  I also think Josh Pastner is a good hire.  He has great pedigree as a recruiter, and is a positive and intelligent guy who will do a good job here.  It will be hard for anyone to duplicate the last four years of Calipari’s tenure here, but that doesn’t mean Pastner will be a failure.  Pastner has a great chance to carve out his own place in Tiger basketball history.

It’s the way that Calipari has handled his departure that rubs me the wrong way.  Most people believe that it’s unethical to take your recruits with you if you change jobs in the middle of the season.  Roy Williams would not take David Padgett or JR Giddens with him when he went to North Carolina from Kansas.  Bob Huggins did not take Michael Beasley or Bill Walker with him when he left Kansas State and headed to West Virginia.  Calipari, though, did.  DeMarcus Cousins has committed to Kentucky, and Xavier Henry and John Wall both list Kentucky among their finalists.  Now comes word that Darnell Dodson may request a release from his letter of intent, and that Will Coleman may possibly do the same.  No one really knows if Dodson will be recruited by Calipari if he gets his release, but Dan Wolken seems to think so.  John Calipari has said on more than one occasion that he has told the recruits to stay with their commitments to the Tigers.  Why then, has the recruiting class almost completely disintegrated?  And why is there a pretty good chance that four of them will end up in Lexington?  If Calipari had told them to go to Memphis, would they not at least still consider the Tigers?  Not only did he leave the program (which, again, I don’t have a problem with), but he may take one of the best recruiting classes ever with him (which I have a massive problem with).

My main problem with it is that it sets a bad precedent.  While there is no rule that states that a coach can’t take his recruits with him if he changes jobs, there should be.  It’s a dangerous precedent to set.  What’s to stop a coach from promising players to a school if they will hire him?  What if Calipari actually did this to get the Kentucky job?  I don’t think it’s wrong for recruits to be able to get out of their letters if a coach leaves.  Let’s be honest…in today’s college basketball landscape, recruits more often than not will play for a coach instead of a school.  That’s no secret.  I also think, though, that the recruits should not be able to follow said coach to whatever school he goes to.  It’s a slippery slope.  It would be ethical for Calipari to recognize this when coaches before him decided to take the high road, but…the high road?  Calipari?   Please.

The people who will argue this will say, “Well, what is he supposed to do, say no to a great player who wanted to play for him?”  Yes.  That’s exactly what he’s supposed to do.  It’s been done before, and it will be done again.  Calipari will get great players at Kentucky in the future, and he already has great players (Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson) and a good recruiting class (Daniel Orton, Jon Hood) coming in from the previous regime.  He shouldn’t accept recruits that he committed or signed while at the University of Memphis.  Period.

Another thing to watch will be how the Memphis athletic department recovers from the loss of Calipari.  While he was here, those in control kowtowed to whatever Calipari wished, whether it was ceasing their basketball relationship with Ole Miss (and consequently, ending the football series), restructuring his contract every year, or having a buyout that was only $200 thousand dollars.  When you remove such a dominant figure from the athletic department, there will naturally be a lot of fallout.  RC Johnson and the rest of the athletic staff have to sift through the rubble and decide what their new priorities are.  Football is mired in mediocrity and needs new facilities, and the rest of the sports have been neglected for the cash cow and shining star that is the basketball program.  While basketball remains the highest profile and biggest money-making sport in the department, it may be a good idea for RC Johnson to use the money he’s saving on Josh Pastner to build up the rest of the athletic program.

While I just painted a pretty bleak picture, it’s certainly not the end of the world.  The basketball facilities are second to none–the Finch Center is spectacular, and FedEx Forum is probably the nicest college basketball venue in the country.  Josh Pastner is a young guy who will be very hungry to prove that he’s worth the opportunity that Memphis gave him.  He’s a tireless recruiter, and will probably be more of a team player than the previous coach when it comes to other sports.  He will be a success.  Basketball is and will always be the best and highest profile sport at the University of Memphis, but with the departure of one of the biggest figures Memphis basketball has ever seen, it might be a pretty good idea for RC Johnson and the athletic department to strengthen the rest of their portfolio.



  1. Tell the Savoie and Gaston. They seem to think every things just fine with the whole situation.

    Comment by Bas-O-Matic — April 14, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

  2. i without a shadow of a doubt agree with everything you have is the time to start building up all of the sports programs at need be at the top of the list wherw as it is the window,not the basketball program,but football is the window to a bcs conference.

    Comment by thomas b — April 14, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  3. Word on the streets (Caulkins and Parrish)is that Cal is talking to Pastner help his get Xavier.Cal is under big-time pressure to deliver Wall and Henry because if he loses Patterson and Meeks,the honeymoon could end quick.Wall is all over the map with schools now he has added florida.Henry wants to play with his brother,problem there for Kentucky he needs the ncaa to make exemption for him to play with his brother,which wont happen.C.J.. will not sit out another year since he sat all year this season.Now Cal is recruiting the J.C. guys because he needs some players at Kent.Patterson will Declare and get drafted first round,Meeks might be back but his stock will be no better next year so he might go second round.The only player he has right now is Cousins and he is not eligible yet

    Comment by mike — April 14, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  4. I agree with Will. It appears that since Cal was hear other sports suffered. I hear fire Tommy West. Why? He is not given the chance to upgrade the program. He has begged for new facilities and they say yes then they have to stop because Cal needs a raise. Why not have R.C. on the program and ask him the questions. Why the buyout, why the clause in the recuits letter of intent, and why have you negelected the other Memphis sports just to cater to Cal.

    Would a high profile football coach come to Memphis when he sees the facilities and the team practicing at a high school. Think not nor would a big time conference.

    Give the other programs a chance, they might fool you

    Comment by Paul — April 15, 2009 @ 11:28 am

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